little background on my handle:  parents wanted to give me a middle name of ivan after an old professor, but they figured i’d be sodomized regularly if they hung me with initials that spelled pig.  so they slipped in a second prof; maxwell.  never heard peep one about the pig thing but, years later, i was filling out an application and under m.i. for middle initial, i wrote down m.i.

“some kinda wiseguy?” said the fellow who was checking the forms.  i showed him my driver’s license.  “well i’ll be,” he said.

reason i’m telling you this is today my bike stopped shifting altogether so i headed over to this revolutionary leninist cell a little down sunset called the bicycle pantry where they don’t believe in money and there’s eight hundred wrecked bikes all tangled up in the lot outside waiting to be salvaged for parts. like most leninists it looks like they’ve been waiting for about fifty hot, dry, oiless years.

inside a posse of cool jung dudes was busy relating to this tall leggy babelet with basically no pants on, needing advice on the best route downtown by bike – and boy you can imagine they were all v. earnest and concerned and full of information.  there was a poignant interlude as they paused to observe her slip astride her pink fixie bike and pedal quite aways down the street, then i managed to pigeonhole this lanky tattooed guy.

i just needed someone who knew about these crazy shimano “rapid-fire” shifters cause i didn’t want to have fifteen ball bearings come rapid-firing out all over the floor when i took the cap off, if that was the deal, and i told him as much.  ‘no problemo,’ he said, clamping my bike to a wobbly stand while casually crushing the rear brake cable.

‘maru will be helping you,’ he said, waving toward a flat-eyed ex-con leaned against the wall.  he was handsome and saturnine, toying with a stripped derailleur gear.  it was a scene right out of the wild one, i swear, if brando was vegan and rode a mountain bike.

after a while maru came sauntering over while the lanky guy set about rounding off the shifter’s cap bolt with the wrong-sized wrench. “this is how it works,” he said, indicating a series of stepped gears, spring loaded, with a pair of pawls that ratchet up and down the gears.  “look here,” he pointed inside the mechanism with a greasy screwdriver. “you need to oil this pawl and this pawl, and put it back together,” he said, and then he ambled off to spoon earnestly away at a tub of trader joe’s humus.

fine, i thought.  “but first you have to clean it,” maru declared, advancing on my bicycle with what was once a wire brush but now existed as a tangled mat of rusted goo.  the handle appeared to have melted away some time ago.

‘no thanks,” i said. “now that i know how it works, i can take it home and work on it there.”

but maru was busy examining the tiny watch-like mechanism. “see what he was saying, man,” he said. “there’s a pawl here and across the spring there’s another pawl… oh, hey,” he said, holding out his hand. “i’m maru, man.  what’s your name?”

“paul,” I said.

i always figured if my name was going to get me into trouble, it would be on account of the middle initial thing, but you never know.  for just a moment there, maru’s eyes grew quite veiled and glisteny, and anything could have happened.  but then he let it go.

just to be on the safe side, on the way out of the bicycle pantry i floated a ten spot of mammon down onto the cluttered countertop. “here,” said the lanky guy, setting aside his humus for a moment, “let me put you into our computer… what’s your name?”

“maxwell ivan,” i said carefully, “i’m from out of town.”

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